May 27, 2011

Dove Body Wash ad accused of sending mixed message


A Dove ad for VisibleCare Creme Body Wash has come under criticism for sending a mixed message. The models in the ad feature a curvy black woman, a Latina and a slim white woman. A weight/skin color transition appears to be inferred - intentionally or not - with "before" and "after" references. The "before" above the black model is on a large panel showing cracked skin - "after" above the white model shows smooth, perfect skin.

A hypothetical tagline could be "get-whiter-and-slimmer with Dove Body Wash!" On the face of it, a ridiculous suggestion because the Body Wash isn't a skin-lightening product. Nonetheless the ad might be interpreted that way.

A Dove spokesperson denied there is anything racist going on in the ad:

All three women are intended to demonstrate the "after" product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.'

Okay, but how come the designers of the ad and the people who approved it failed to see the potential for misunderstanding? It's a mixed message at best. If all three models demonstrate the "after" look, why weren't they placed in a different order to avoid negative perceptions?

It is a stretch to call the ad racist, but the set-up lays it open to the charge.

It's not as if there aren't other examples of perceived racism that might lead to a cynical view of the Dove ad. The fashion industry has been criticized for favoring white models over models-of-color. Beauty-related ads have been criticized for skin lightening - for example this bizarre L'Oreal ad featuring Beyonce.

Also link to: The Root - This Week